Every year, Canada observes September 30 as Orange Shirt Day. Residents show their support by wearing orange-coloured clothes and businesses incorporate the colour on their buildings. You would have also noticed the slogan “Every Child Matters” on t-shirts, social media, and signage. Using the slogan, residents of Canada honour the families and communities that were affected by the residential school system. Continue reading the article to understand what Every Child Matters and Orange Shirt Day mean and what you can do to support indigenous communities in Canada.
Over 150,000 children were forcefully taken away from their families between 1831 and 1966 by the residential school system. They were punished for conversing in their native language, and celebrating their culture and practices. These schools didn’t offer any real education. They offered some part-time courses but mostly, students were forced to work at the school.
Thousands of children were killed. In May 2021, 182 human remains were found in an unmarked grave near a (now defunct) Catholic Church-run residential school near Cranbrook, British Columbia. Unfortunately, a few other unmarked graves were discovered as well.
Every Child Matters is a slogan and message used to honour the innocent lives lost. It symbolises that every child is important, including the ones who lose their lives and the adults who are still healing from their difficult time at residential schools.
Chief Fred Robbins is one of the key figures for developing Orange Shirt Day. At one of his events in 2013, Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, a former residential school student, shared her story. When she was first enrolled in the school, they took away all her clothes, including the orange shirt she wore that day. Every time she saw the colour, she was reminded of what she had gone through and that her feelings didn’t matter.
And that’s why, on September 30, Canadians observe Orange Shirt Day to honour Phyllis and other children who suffered at residential schools. The first-ever Orange Dy Shirt Day was observed in 2021. The Canadian government introduced the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action to address the impact of residential schools on children, families, communities, and the indigenous culture.
While we, as a country, have made great progress in supporting the Every Child Matters movement and indigenous communities, there’s still work to be done. Here’s how you continue showing your support: